Monday, July 9, 2012

Looking Through Indian Eyes Is A Good Thing To Do

Over the weekend I finished reading "Through Indian Eyes: The Untold Story of Native American Peoples."

All the previous books I've read, telling the history of the American Indians, have ended shortly after the Wounded Knee Massacre, that being the massacre that ended the Indian Wars, that had been fought, to varying degrees of intensity, ever since white men landed in the Americas.

I just remembered Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches.

Unlike Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee or Chronicles of the Indian Wars, and others, Empire of the Summer Moon did not end with Wounded Knee.

The story of Quanah Parker continued on into the 20th century. After Wounded Knee, Through Indian Eyes continues on to tell the history of the American Native Peoples all the way to the present.

I grew up near an Indian Reservation, that being the Swinomish Nation. When I was a kid, the Swinomish were so poor. It was shocking to my young eyes. The Swinomish are poor no more.

I thought I was fairly well versed in Indian history, post Wounded Knee. I was wrong.

I did not know thousands of Native Americans volunteered to fight in WWI, to the astonishment of a grateful nation. After the war the Indian veterans asked to be made American citizens, feeling they'd earned that right. In 1924 all Native Americans were made citizens of the United States.

I did not know about the Osage Nation. The Osage were very wily, very clever Indians. The Osage Nation is the only tribe to retain a federally recognized reservation in Oklahoma.

The Osage were the only Indians to buy the land for their Nation. The Osage negotiated to retain mineral rights. Soon oil was discovered. By the 1920s the Osage Nation was the richest, per capita, in the world.

The Great Depression wiped out some of the wealth of the Osage Nation.

When the Osage People heard on their radios that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, within hours the Osage started beating their War Drums. Soon Native Americans were beating their War Drums all across America. The Osage took a large chunk of their remaining wealth and bought Liberty Bonds to help finance the war.

When Barack Obama was elected I recollect wondering to myself when will America have a Native American president?


Little did I know that we almost already have had a Native American president.

Herbert Hoover's vice president was a man named Charles Curtis. When he was a boy, Charles Curtis was known as "Indian Charley." As a boy he lived with his mother and grandparents on the Kaw reservation. Curtis was 3/4 Native American, on his mother's side, a mix of Kaw, Osage and Pottawatomie ancestry.

Had the Great Depression not soured America on the Hoover administration, Charles Curtis might easily have become our first American Indian president.

I know I would have voted for him, even though he was a Republican.

So, there's your Native American history lesson for this evening. 

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